Jobs: A Hero of Our Time

Apple Computer

It is incredible to think that a CEO of a major American corporation – a money making one at that – is so highly respected and admired as Steve Jobs. The New York Times called him a modern day Edison, who not only invented incandescent light but ostensibly began the movie industry. Miguel Helft and Shan Carter note in “A Chief Executives Attention to Detail, Noted in 313 Patents” that “When people in the technology industry speak of Steven P. Jobs’s knack for design, they often have Apple’s iconic products in mind: the early all-in-one Macintosh computers, the first iMacs with their brightly colored and translucent cases, and more recently, the various iPods, iPhones and iPads.” See the Times’ superb interactive features on Job’s innovations here.

Jobs is not the cliched “iconic figure,” he is the embodiment of 70s geek turned socio-technological leader. He had an idea, followed it through to have other related ideas and proffered a revolution. He didn’t invent the computer, but he changed the mindset of generations in terms of what computers can and should do. He is the baby boomer’s man of the age. If anyone has left a mark across many fields it is Jobs. And as many have already feared, his retirement is “the end of an era.”

On Thursday, my Times T-StyleGraphic Content” column was devoted to designers’ reactions to Jobs’s stepping down as CEO for health reasons. After the story was filed, more responses came in – here are some:

Rick Valicenti, Thirst: Steve Jobs made the future happen right on schedule. He modernized the mechanics and the possibilities within the profession of communication, as a result he changed the way we work. His vision fit perfectly into my life.

Jessica Helfand, Winterhouse: Jobs to Apple is like Martha Stewart to MSLO or Oprah to Oprah. Then again, he’s not a designer, but he knew enough to hire really good designers to make things for Apple. That’s not only a lasting legacy, but as far as designers are concerned, a really spectacular one.

Milton Glaser: Jobs made the electronic world accessible and democratic. Modernism without mannerism: He may be the most important figure in the 21st Century, in regards to overall impact on design.

John Walters, EYE magazine: Jobs’ public legacy may be to reaffirm that good product design has a place in the mass market. My first encounter with a Mac was via a musician friend, who described his little Classic as ‘the Morris Minor of computers’. You bond with Macs in a way you don’t with PCs.

Jobs is a famous and influential design client. There aren’t many of those! Through Apple’s products he’s had a huge impact on design and designers — some good, some bad, as I’m reminded daily when frustrated by the iPhone’s limitations and idiosyncrasies.

Scott Dadich, Conde Nast: Steve helped the world understand that design is to be cherished, fought for, and protected at all costs. He understands that good design—whether in the layout of Pixar’s campus or in the pixel colors in an icon—is good business. Steve made it acceptable for corporate America to care about the design of every aspect of business, and I think the world is a more beautiful place for his vision.

I hope his most lasting contribution to design is the belief that details can change the entirety of purpose. And sometimes, the removal of detail can lead to the purest expression of form meeting utility. One only need look at the iPhone—a computer in your hand, a device that can literally do millions of things, and it has one button. His is a breathtaking vision of simplicity, balance, and calm, and there isn’t a designer on the planet who hasn’t been inspired by the man.

Rick Landers, LandersMiller: Everyday we see companies and products trying to mimic the success that Jobs has had. As a designer, its great to see more and more people want good design, its even better to see and experience the realization that really simple design is quite difficult to achieve.

I am interested in seeing how the rest of the technology world reacts to Jobs’s departure. It seems like everyone just waits to see what Apple does and then tries to copy it– there seems to have been a lack of effort in innovation from anyone else, it would be nice to see this change, rather than trying to copy what Jobs and Apple has done, learn from their success, and start thinking about how to put a  different vision of their own into the world.

Rudy VanderLans, Emigre: . . . making computers and computing fun for people who knew nothing about computers, like me. Jobs’s lasting contribution has to be the Graphical User Interface and the Mouse.

George Lois: Steve Jobs dramatically changed world culture. He made things as small as possible, clean, unfussy, easy-to-use, pluperfect in function and design. He is Irreplaceable!

Mark Randall, World Studio: He has forever changed how we interact with information, media and each other. He has demonstrated to power of design to a broad mainstream audience like no one else has. Apple products are like fetishes, worshiped by their owners.

Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister Inc.: Jobs hired Jonathan Ives and ensured his ideas were implemented. Will there be consequences with his departure: Yes, pending on how well the new CEO works with Jonathan.

Richard Wilde, BFA Advertising and Graphic Design, School of Visual Arts, NYC: Steve Jobs is a visionary and risk-taker of the first rank. Given this rare combination of extraordinary attributes coupled with the dynamics of how corporate America functions, it is almost impossible for such an individual to assume such a position of power.  Hence, depending on what projects he has initiated that are now being undertaken, will in effect, determine the future of Apple. But in the long run, Jobs cannot be replaced and in my opinion, Apple will eventually relinquish its leadership position.

Louise Sandhaus: Recently John Thackera responded to government’s stronger focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in education with the caution that too much attention towards these domains without equal consideration to the social dimension of these contributions does not account for how they will act in the world. Experimental art and design, Thackera demands, are the means by which science, tech, engineering and math enrich our lives as they’re not endpoints in themselves.

Steve Jobs embodied this notion of the contribution of experimental design. And by “design” I mean the entire social, technical, and aesthetic ecology that he imagined.  He is a walking, talking, breathing reminder of the significance of design — a symbol of imagination, risk, and unrelenting confidence in an extensive vision. Debates continue whether we want or need “design heroes” anymore, but I’ll declare Jobs my personal one.

I hope that Jobs has planted many Apple “seeds” that in turn will produce more of the same fruit, but I fear, instead, that Jobs might have been a unicorn.

Sagi Haviv, Chermayeff & Geismar: Jobs taught us that our design tools can not only be effective but also that the hardware and software interface can look amazing and feel intuitive—it is the epitome of “Form Follows Function.”

Although the computer doesn’t do the design for us—we always start by hand and put pencil to paper—you have to admit that Jobs’s Apple computer with its intuitive interface and endless execution possibilities made anything seem achievable. This new frame of mind inevitably affected our conceptual thinking and liberated our creative spirits to come up with ideas that were previously unimaginable.

Ken Carbone, Carbone Smolan: Jobs is a defiant pioneer who changed the world through innovative ideas, technology and design. He “got” design! He understood it’s power for market  differentiation. He was a true design champion and set a high standard of quality rarely met by his competition.

Scott Stowell, Open: Steve Jobs is about as successful as a human being can be, both creatively and financially. He wanted to change the world, and he did it. Plus his company ended up with more money than any other (and more in the bank than the U.S. government) thanks to good ideas, smart decisions, and no focus groups.

I know most people will say Jobs’ most important contributions to design are objects like the iPod or the iPhone. But as a designer, I couldn’t do what I do without the tools he brought into the world. Millions of people like me are making things every day thanks to Steve Jobs.

I know Apple stock dropped a few points right after the announcement, but that’s not important. I just don’t want to think about a world without Steve Jobs in it. He has always done what he thought was right (or “insanely great”) and never worried about how things are usually done. I wish the rest of us could be as brave.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. “Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister Inc.: Jobs hired Jonathan Ives…”
    While Jobs clearly appreciated Ive’s talents, he didn’t hire him (Ive started at Apple in 1992).

  2. Great article. My two favorite sentences: ‘You bond with Macs in a way you don’t with PCs.’
    and ‘I just don’t want to think about a world without Steve Jobs in it.’
    Truer words were never spoken!
     

  3. The Apple IIe was my first compter in 1985. I had no idea what I’d do with one and mostly just noodled with it. But I chose the Apple–silly as this will sound–because, out of all the then-available PCs, the IIe’s design was the one I wanted to look at on my desk. Eventually I moved over to Macintosh and, tho’ I don’t draw or paint or like that, I became a freelance book designer of some experience. I’ve been at it almost 20 years now and I don’t imagine I would be where I am if not for Mr. Jobs’ design sensibility and commitment to great design.

  4. “After all, no company has been as successful at separating you from your money as Apple has.”
    Right.  I would have spent 1/3rd as much on a Dell comparable to my AirBook.  Jobs got those in my field out of the Dark Ages of pen & ink, cameras and chemicals, and into the Enlightenment of unbridled computer-aided design.  If I can imagine it, I can create it w/ my laptop, and get it done @ any time, anywhere in the world.  For that alone, I am eternally grateful.

  5. “Rudy VanderLans, Emigre: . . . Jobs’s lasting contribution has to be the Graphical User Interface and the Mouse.”
    Yet those little gems were borrowed from Xerox…

  6. I admire Jobs immensely for what he has accomplished and what he has brought to the world. Yet, I can’t help being a wee bit bothered by Apple. To wit, this comment from Mark Randall: “Apple products are like fetishes, worshiped by their owners.”
    I couldn’t agree more. But is this a healthy attitude? After all, no company has been as successful at separating you from your money as Apple has.